Not everyone agrees with Loren Seagrave’s sprint mechanics that I highlighted in my first post. One of the most vocal opponents is famed strength coach Barry Ross. And today his most claim-to-fame athlete Allyson Felix, won the 200m at the Olympic Trials, setting a new PR of 21.69 and becoming the fourth fastest woman of all time. It only seemed appropriate to highlight his ideas.
First, however, I need to clarify that Barry is not her current strength coach. Nor was he ever her sprinting coach. Barry was her high school strength coach. Her high school sprint coach is Wes Smith and her current coach is legend Bobby Kersee. Regardless, Ross was her high school strength coach and she did run a blistering 22.11 while in high school!!! So, Ross deserves major “props”.
I must admit, I haven’t read his eBook “Underground Secrets to Faster Running”, but I have read much of his blog Bearpowered and his article “The Holy Grails of Speed Training” and he makes a lot sense. Moreover, you have to respect someone who doesn’t shy away from controversy (and perhaps brings it on). A couple posts to that tune: one about Bobby Kersee and one about Younger Technique Guru (not sure who he’s referring to).
Before outlining some of Ross’ methodologies, I wanted to support one thing he brings up about Kersee’s quotes in Stack Magazine.
“Right now, Allyson doesn’t have the body she needs,” Kersee says. “So I have extended her hypertrophy phase a lot longer to increase her body size more than strength. In high school, she wasn’t lifting properly, because she used heavier weights to add strength and power, but her frame wasn’t big enough. We are working to increase her lean body mass, then add power and strength to that larger frame. Since mass, force and acceleration are all tied together, her increased mass and greater force at the proper angles will mean much better acceleration.”
Improved acceleration in the beginning of her race is a major goal of Allyson and Kersee. “Her velocity and maintenance are as good, if not better than anyone in the world,” Kersee says. “So anything we gain by increasing her upfront acceleration will be a net gain at the end of the race. We are eventually going to get her 100 under 11 seconds.”
Ross’ questions Kersee’s comments about mass, force and acceleration, even to the point where he says “unless he [Kersee] was misquoted.” Ross is 100% right to question Kersee here. It doesn’t make any sense. I spent years studying astrophysics (and some biomechanics) in grad school, so I know a bit about Force = Mass x Acceleration. To think that adding more mass will magically create more force makes absolutely no sense. It doesn’t even pass the idiot test. Just think of it this way, say you can run X fast, so your steps are imparting Y Force against the ground. If you put some rocks in your pocket so you’re more massive are you going to run faster. Of course not. But you increased your mass?! The key here is that your Force is going to remain constant, and thus the added Mass will cause a reduction in Acceleration. And that is what adding worthless mass would do to Allyson Felix. The key would be to increase force production “without” adding mass, thereby making acceleration the component that increases. And this is Ross’ point and his methodologies. If I give Kersee the benefit of the doubt, what he might have meant was that by increasing Felix’s lean mass, he will be able to increase her force disproportionately to her increase in mass thus increasing her acceleration.
Okay, back to Ross’ methodologies. Ross references two pieces of literature as influential in his methodologies, Peter Weyand study “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements” and Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Power to the People (which I’ll be reviewing on another blog soon — link to come). He also uses the equations in Weyand’s study “High-speed running performance: a new approach to assessment and prediction” as the basis for his sprint workout planning. In short, he’s a firm believer in Weyand findings that speed is all about how much force you apply to the ground. Moreover, this “force” that Weyand discusses is “mass specific force”, which means they took the force measured on their treadmill and divided it by the subject mass. So what does this mean in layman’s terms: increase the force you can apply to the ground while sprinting without (or disproportionately) increasing your mass (weight) and you will run faster. And that’s where Tsatsouline’s Power to the People comes in. Tsatsouline’s book is all about getting stronger, which means more forceful, without getting bigger. 2 + 2 = 4.
Power to the People professes the deadlift (various versions) and the press (bench press being one). It spells out the techniques for getting stronger without gaining mass, which is a steady diet of low reps of heavy weights. Ross states he uses 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps as his basis for the deadlift and press, and he adds in a couple other lifts, like cleans and isometric abs with some plyometrics between sets and you’ve got his basic weight room schedule.
On the track, he prescribes a very unorthodox sprint workout, which is described in Timothy Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Body. Ross prescribes workouts that include sprints that are never longer than 70m, with the average being 55m. Rest between sprints is full recovery, specifically 5 minutes. He does this for all sprinters, including 400m runners. Even the late great Charlie Francis who legitimized short full speed workouts didn’t follow this “short” of a system. Moreover, Ross follows Weyand equations in High-speed running performance: a new approach to assessment and prediction to determine target speeds for his athletes…and when that athlete can’t hit that target speed (which is 95% of his predicted max based on Weyland equations), then his day is over (quality over quantity). I find this “95% or you’re done” to be a very interesting periodization/supercompensation concept (which I’ll discuss in futures posts, especially my experiences with Heart Rate Variability testing). It would seem to be a self-regulating approach to fight over-training.
How beautiful this sounds. I can drop my 400m time without repeat intervals of 500, 400, 300… I can forget Clyde Hart’s famous 200m relays??? At least for the 400m and long hurdler, this sounds too good to be true. And, I personally think it is. The Weyand equation is not perfect. If you put in Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m times, it predicts a 400m of 38.5. If you put in Usain’s best 400m time with is best 100m, it predicts a 200m of 20.2 (even when I try to adjust these times for flying starts, they still not didn’t come out reasonable). I do believe Bolt could break the world record in the 400m, but I don’t think he could get there by never training longer than 70m and I don’t think it would be anywhere near 38.5.
I don’t know how Ross plans his workouts, microcycles, mesocycles… Perhaps that is in his book…and perhaps I’ll write another review in the future. But I do find it intriguing. And I do agree with a lot of what he professes.
So, do I now think reading Seagrave (and Pfaff per my previous post) is a waste of your time. Not hardly. It makes more sense to me that both are correct. That one key to sprinting is “greater ground force” and the other is applying that force with the correct vectors (aka, sprint technique). The idiot test applies here — you can have a world class deadlift and still run slowly as molasses if you try to sprint heal-to-toe. And you can have perfect sprint technique and run like a snail because you are can’t push against ground.